The iPod + iPhone Year in Review 2007
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Speakers. Headphones. Cases. Cables. The basic parameters of the iPod accessory market were defined years ago, but repeated innovations re-defined them: iPods became karaoke devices, substitutes for portable DVD players, and audio recorders. And companies competed to outdo each other with new features: “did you ever know your iPod could do this?”
Last year, it was obvious that the pace of innovation was not what it used to be, and that gluts of me-too speakers and cases were preparing to flood the market. This year, it felt as if innovation all but died: hundreds of companies are now selling highly similar and in some cases identical products, few offering even the slightest novelty relative to others. Similarly, Apple’s decisions to lock the iPod family’s video-out functionality, limit iPod accessory compatibility with iPhones, and take more direct control over testing of iPhone add-ons have clouded the skies for many developers, limiting consumer choice. Consequently, five months after iPhone’s release, only two Works With iPhone car chargers are in U.S. stores, and they’re the same two that were available when the iPhone first came out; three months after the new iPods’ release, zero compatible add-on video displays are available, and old models just don’t work properly.
One surprise in 2007 was Apple’s quiet decision to exit the iPod speaker business, which it entered only last year with the iPod Hi-Fi. Sales reports suggested that the $349 all-in-one system had come roaring out of the gate thanks to tremendous publicity, but quickly dropped off in sales once reviews and in-person tests determined that it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. In actuality, Apple’s accessory participation as a whole has dropped in 2007, as the company has left case, audio, and electronic add-on development more to third-party developers than had been expected, releasing only predictable accessories such as basic headphones, chargers, docks, and cables, albeit at significant markups. Developers have suggested that Apple is increasingly content to supervise and approve their upcoming products from afar, collecting fees on units sold without having to devote its own resources to development—except on rare occasions.
There has been some other good news for third-party accessory makers in 2007. Companies continue to release new products at a brisk, perhaps dizzying pace. New categories such as wireless audio have started to take off, with a number of unique wireless speaker options debuting this year, several significantly better sounding and looking than prior options. Wired speaker makers—particularly those with all-in-one designs—have continued to evolve our expectations of what’s worthy of various price points. And long-time case and film developers have taken iPod and iPhone protection to new heights, introducing clear body protectors that are thinner and more comprehensive than ever, plus cases that offer more useful features and nicer designs than prior models.
Moreso than in past years, 2007’s accessory success will be judged more by numbers than by the merit of the products released; though we’ve exhaustively cataloged hundreds if not a thousand new releases over the past 12 months, far fewer are actually exciting these days than in the past. Though the industry’s sales numbers were down earlier in the year, aggressive holiday spending could easily help them jump up again.
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